Charlotte has raised her family. She’s weathered all that life has thrown at her. She’s almost done. Almost. But almost is exhausting. She may strong, independent, and smart, but going it alone, for so long, who could blame her for wishing? She’s not asking for the world. Just a little love to help her through the tough spots. Sometimes, wishes come true.

Helen Chapman creates an endearing heroine, and has us in her corner from the start. Throw in a cowboy for good measure, and anything is possible.

Welcome. And, enjoy!

Sagebrush & Sanity

by Helen Chapman

“What the hell did you do, Mom?”

Charlotte got out of the truck and slammed the door. She walked around the front and looked down at the driver’s side tire. “What do you mean, what’d I do? You’ve been driving since we left home.”

The tire was shredded, the wheel rim bent beyond salvaging. The truck began riding rough when they passed the San Antonio exit. It had gone completely flat just before they got into Albuquerque. Had Patrick gotten out and changed the tire as soon as it blew, everything would have been fine. Instead, he insisted on driving to the next exit then riding all the way to a tire store. They hadn’t made it.

Now they were sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Charlotte looked to the west and saw nothing but the setting sun, barbed wire and fence posts. The only sign that anyone lived anywhere in this part of the state was that fence.

Patrick was leaning on the side of the truck, texting furiously. Charlotte checked her own phone and found she had no signal. “Patrick, who are you talking to?”

“I’m telling Cathy what you made me do.”

Charlotte turned away and kicked at a rock from the shoulder of the road into the grass as she muttered under her breath. Why did I forget my pill that day?  She turned her attention to her son. “You have a signal, Patrick?”

He kept punching buttons. “What do you mean do I have a signal? Of course I have a signal. It’s a cell phone, isn’t it?”  He hit the ‘send’ button. Nothing happened. He punched it again. She heard the mechanical beep of failure. “Mother, what’s wrong with my phone? Why won’t my text go?”

She sighed deeply. He may be almost thirty years old, but he was still a little boy. “Probably because there’s no signal out here.”

Patrick punched more buttons. He was becoming angrier by the second. “Come on you cheap piece of crap. WORK!”  He screamed an obscenity and threw the phone with all his might into the adjoining pasture.

“Son, why don’t we just…”

Her son cut her off. “We’re not just doing anything, Mother. This is your fault. I’m going to sit in the truck and wait for someone to come by.”

Charlotte knew arguing with her son was a useless endeavor. He never accepted responsibility for anything, and no amount of talking would do any good.  Anyway, they had another thousand miles to go. She didn’t relish hearing about this for another whole day. “Fine then. I’ll just start walking. When I find help, I might come back for you.”

She opened the door and took out her wallet. She removed her cards and money and put them in the pockets of her jeans. Not that she didn’t trust her son, but he wasn’t the most responsible person, and if he wandered off and left the truck unlocked, anyone could walk off with her purse. She put her cell phone in another pocket just in case. She grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler, her cane off the floor and slammed the door again.

Patrick continued to glare at her as she began to hobble west along the two lane road. “Fine, Mother. Walk off. Go on. I’ll just wait here for a tow truck to come by.’

It took every ounce of self restraint Charlotte had not to call him the same name he used on his cell phone before he hurled it across the field.

She kept walking, each step reminding her of her recent accident and her healing leg. The doctor had said she was fully recovered; she had been released and had gotten her maximum medical improvement letter from the doctor, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like bloody hell after she had been sitting all day and then having to hike cross country in hundred degree weather.

As she walked, Charlotte wished she had gotten her hat. The setting sun was brutal. She could feel her skin burning in the late afternoon heat. She unscrewed the lid from the liter bottle she carried and took a sip. She might look like a boiled lobster when she arrived wherever she was going, but she had every intention of getting there and not collapsing in the heat.

The alarm on her watch went off. Five o’clock. Time for Patrick to take his medicine. Well, he was on his own. She looked over her shoulder and realized she could no longer see the truck.  Oh well. At least she knew where he was. One single road, she couldn’t possibly get lost.

After walking more than an hour Charlotte was beginning to wonder if she could get lost on one single straight road. There was no sign of life, except for those few cows in the field. She stopped and leaned against a cedar fence post. She leaned her cane against the post and took a long drink from her water bottle. If it wasn’t for the circumstances, she just might have enjoyed the bucolic scene of cows and their calves grazing in the field.

One of the cows raised her head and lowed. Two more followed suit. Charlotte saw they were all looking to the horizon. Charlotte followed their gaze out of curiosity. She was ready to give up when she saw dust rising over the crest of the hill.

The dust cloud began to thin as it neared Charlotte, and a figure appeared. It looked like a man on horseback.

By the time Charlotte could hear the hoof beats, the cows had scattered. Charlotte kept watching the rider, in case he turned to follow the small herd. She wasn’t about to be left out in the middle of nowhere.

The rider rode straight to the fence, sawed back the reins, and stopped his pinto pony directly in front of Charlotte. The rider pushed his Stetson hat back and bent forward, leaning on the pommel of his saddle. “You need help, ma’am?”

Charlotte hoped he wasn’t a mirage. He looked tall, although it was hard to judge a man’s height when he was astride a horse. But Lord have mercy he was pretty. He looked to be in his early fifties, just right for Charlotte. She shook herself mentally. Where had that come from?

“Yes sir, I probably do need some help. Our truck broke down, and I was going for help.”

He smiled beneath his graying mustache. “Our truck? Don’t tell me your husband sent you off on your own?”

Charlotte pushed back from the post, and in doing so knocked her cane into the electric fence. The metal cane made the fence spark and spit.

The pinto started and tried to rear. The rider controlled the horse masterfully, then patted the animal’s neck to calm him. Hmmm. Strong yet gentle. Charlotte was liking this more and more.

She started to apologize but changed her mind. She didn’t want to draw too much attention to her disability. Instead she decided to answer his question. “No, no husband. My son is with the truck, hoping a tow truck drives by. I decided to walk for a while to see if I could find a house.”

His smiled broadened. “I doubt you’ll see a house along this road. At least not for ten miles. But I’ll be happy to take you someplace where we can call that truck and get you out of this sun.”

Could this really be happening? Could she trust a total stranger who found her walking down a country road in the middle of nowhere? What were the chances he was just what he seemed to be: a really good man with a nice smile and a pleasant demeanor.

She looked up at him, shading her eyes from the western sun.  She kept thinking there was something about him she wasn’t seeing.  “Just where would we have to go to find this telephone?”

He rode his horse closer to the fence so he was close enough to touch, had she wanted. The more she looked, the more those thoughts were fighting their way to the surface. He swung off his horse and reached into a leather holster he wore on his belt. He had a tablet computer!

He worked quickly, typing with his left hand. “There. I’ve emailed my foreman. We’ll wait until we get an answer.”  He finished his answer just as the tablet bleeped to alert him he had an email.  “Can you ride?”

Charlotte snapped to attention.  “Ride?”  What was he talking about?

“My foreman wants to know if you can ride his horse back. He said he’d go change your son’s tire if you can ride his horse back to the house.”

She hadn’t ridden since her kids were teenagers. She didn’t even know if she could. Now she had to alert him to her disability, no matter how temporary. Charlotte bent and picked up her cane and leaned on it, suddenly realizing how tired she really was. She had been walking for the better part of an hour, and her leg was about spent.

The rancher didn’t wait for an answer. He typed quickly, then put the tablet back into the slim leather holder. “No worries. I told the foreman to bring the Jeep. I’ll drive you back up to the house, and we’ll wait for your son to come fetch you.”

A cloud of dust appeared at the southwest end of  the pasture.  That must be the foreman. Charlotte wasn’t sure if she should ride anywhere with this man or not. Her mind was running in fifteen different directions at once.  He might be a serial killer. He might be wanted for rape or arson in ten states. He might be married.  Married? Where had that come from? She wasn’t even considering a relationship at this point in her life. She only needed a place out of the sun to wait for her son.

“Looks like Rowdy’s right on time.”

“Rowdy? That’s really your foreman’s name?”

The rancher laughed. “Naw. His real name is Clint. When he first hired on, one of the older hands teased him about being named after the foreman on Rawhide. It ran all over Clint, so of course they kept it up. Eventually, they just got to calling him Rowdy. After a while, the name sort of just stuck.”

The bright red four wheel drive vehicle bounced to a stop about ten yards from where they stood. A lean man with a mane of salt and pepper hair swung his legs out almost as if he was getting out of a saddle. There was a fluidity to his movement that Charlotte thought must have come with living in the West.

Rowdy rolled his way to the fence. He tipped his hat. “Boss. Ma’am.”  He handed the keys to his employer, swung up into the pinto’s saddle.  He turned the horse in a tight circle, rode back about twenty yards into the pasture, then spurred the horse’s flanks. The horse whinnied and headed at a run for the fence. The pair became airborne and cleared the fence with room to spare. 

The rancher laughed. “Damned show off. Well, ma’am. Your coach awaits. Shall we anon to yon keep and await your rescue?”

Charlotte caught herself staring at him, open mouthed. Suddenly, he was the lord of the manner instead of a rough and tumble cowboy.

Why no, Charlotte thought. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to ride off with a strange man. But at this point, she didn’t care. She was out in the middle of no where, with no help in sight. It was his way or no way. She picked up her cane. “Very well, kind sir. How do I ascend into yon coach?”  She gestured to the four strands of barbed wire with a wave of her hand.

The rancher grinned like a little boy. He pulled on his leather gloves, put one hand on top of one of the cedar fence posts, and swung over the top wire. Again, she caught herself gaping at him. Without a word, he scooped Charlotte up in his arms and deposited her on the other side of the fence. He swung back over and stuck a landing right in front of her.

“Now who’s showing off?”  Charlotte was trying to sound stern, but she couldn’t hold back the giggles. Imagine, a woman her age getting all giddy just because a man picked her up in his arms.

“I reckon I am, ma’am.”  He was still grinning.  “I figure I oughta introduce myself, since I’ve gotten all personal with your…ah…person. My name’s Arthur. Art for short.”  He held out his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Art. I’m Charlotte.”   She took his hand and returned his firm grasp. When he closed his left hand over her right in a two handed shake, she gave a small, involuntary shiver. She shook herself mentally. He wasn’t anything special, was he? He was just a man after all.

Yeah. Just a man. A man with steel gray hair, piercing green eyes and skin like tanned leather. And that voice! Deep and rich with pleasant twang, like salted caramel.  She gave herself another shake. What the hell is the matter with you Charlotte Marie?  Stop it. He’s probably got three wives and a flock of kids or something.

He was still holding her hand in his when he swept his left arm towards the Jeep. “Shall we away to my keep, my lady?”

Charlotte laughed out loud this time.  “Lead on, sir knight.”

He led her to the passenger seat of the Jeep with courtly aplomb and seated her.

Art climbed into his seat, fastened his seat belt and waited for his passenger to follow suit. The engine roared to life, and he turned in a wide circle and headed across the pasture in the direction his foreman had traveled.

They rode in companionable silence for a few minutes when Charlotte saw a wide wrought iron sign across what looked like a drive way. As they neared, she was able to see what was written in the ironwork.  A very stylized Art Deco AD was worked into the arch .  Charlotte decided to break her silence. “Your gate is wonderful. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Art beamed.  “Thank you. In earlier times that was our brand.”

“Really? And you don’t brand anymore?”

He was in his element. He loved this ranch and everything connected with it. Whenever someone asked him a question, he had to be careful not bore his audience with too much information. “Some ranches still brand. With the advent of ear tags, I find they are much more humane than scorching my initials into some poor critter’s flank.” 

“Those are your initial, for real?”   Once he started speaking, Charlotte didn’t want him to stop. She could listen to him all day.

“Yep. For real.” He didn’t say any more until they pulled up in front of a long single storied house, landscaped with a combination of native plants and a large patch of prickly pear cactus in the center of the yard.  “Welcome to my humble abode, Ms. Charlotte.”

Art unfastened his seat belt and ran to the other side of the Jeep to assist his passenger. Charlotte had put one foot outside of the vehicle and a huge black and tan dog came running out from under the porch. He was barking and snarling and carrying on like a wild thing. Charlotte half expected Art to shoot the animal. But he only carried a tablet computer in his holster.  She decided discretion was the better part of valor. She cowered behind the the rancher and buried her face in his back.

She couldn’t tell he was grinning.  She felt his arm move and figured out he was reaching into his pocket. She felt his elbow rub ever so gently against her breast, and fought the small shiver that went through her.  This was not the time to become aroused, not when some great monster of a dog wanted to eat her. She felt him reach out with his right arm, then heard the report.

“Bang.”  No shot. No resounding explosion. No tell-tale odor of cordite in the air. He just said “Bang”.

He stepped from in front of her.  There was the black and tan dog, lying on the ground on his side. What the hell did Art do?  When she heard him laugh, she would have cheerfully gone upside his head with her walking stick.

“Charlotte, you just met Mike. Mike, meet Charlotte.”  The dog, who was colored like a Doberman, but with long hair, jumped to his feet, shook the dust from his coat, and sat directly in front of the two people.  He pulled his lips back in what Charlotte first took to snarl.

“Art, what’s wrong with him?” She was suddenly behind the rancher again.

He didn’t answer. He stepped aside and allowed his guest to have a better look at his canine companion. 

There was no hope for it. Charlotte looked at the dog, really looked.  “Oh my God, Art. He…he’s grinning.”

Art knelt beside his guest and held his hand out to the dog, who bounded towards the rancher. “Sure is. This here is Mike, the happiest dog in the county.  Mike, meet Ms. Charlotte.  Now you make nice, ya’hear?”

Mike never stood up. He scooted on his butt to Charlotte, and extended his right paw in a most gentlemanly fashion, still grinning all the while.

Never one to turn down an overture of friendship, Charlotte bent and took Mikes right paw in her right hand. “Please to meet you, Mr. Mike.”

The dog allowed a brief squeeze of his paw, withdrew, and spun into quick circles while making a peculiar sound that seemed half bark, half yelp.  He stopped as suddenly as he started, and took off towards the back of the house.

“Well, now you’ve met the two most important residents of the place: Rowdy and Mike. What would you say to something cold to drink and a bite to eat?”                       

Art headed off in Mike’s wake. Charlotte followed him, still not sure of what to expect.

They turned the corner at the rear of the long ranch house and Charlotte stopped dead in her tracks. Whereas the front had been more or less typical western ranch plants, the back held what looked like the perfect English country garden. Geraniums, begonias and lilies were planted in scattered patterns across a small terraced garden, with a wrought iron white bistro set and two chairs in the center. Behind the small dining set was a fountain where water cascaded across a series of slate slabs into a small pebble filled basin.  Tiny sulphur colored butterflies fluttered about amongst the flowers.

“Art, this is lovely!” Charlotte was almost giddy with excitement.

“I wondered if you would like it. This was my mother’s pet project. She agreed to marry my dad only if he would put in a proper garden. So he did, and they did, and here I am. It’s a shame you can’t meet them.”

She was suddenly sad. He seemed too lonely at this moment. “Oh. Are they gone? I’m so sorry.”

There was that laugh again.  “No, no. I really need to watch how I phrase things. No, they’re still both quite lively. My niece is having her first baby, and my parents flew to Argentina to be with her and my sister.”

Maybe this wasn’t good. Here was a man her age who still lived with his parents.  “So this is your parents’ place?”  There. May as well get it out in the open.

Art didn’t answer. Instead, he opened the door and beckoned Charlotte to follow him inside.

She stopped just inside the door, feeling as if she had entered Alice’s looking glass.  The large room was in shades of browns, golds and greens, with copper tiles covering the wall behind the stove top. It wasn’t just any stove. A huge eight burner stove with what Charlotte swore was an infrared grill, and three ovens vied for space with copper counter tops and glass door refrigerators. 

Art walked past Charlotte and opened a small door at the bottom of the refrigerator. A built-in wine cooler!  He pondered briefly then selected a bottle.  He placed the bottle on the center island, reached into a nearby drawer and extracted a corkscrew. He was working the implement into the cork when he looked sheepishly at his guest.

“I’m sorry. I never thought to ask if you’d like wine, or if you’d prefer a soda or even just a glass of water.”

Charlotte smiled, suddenly feeling shy. “Wine is just fine. But first, I really need to…uh…”

He pointed over her shoulder. “Through the living room, first door on the right.”

She dashed shyly from the room, at least as much of a dash as a woman with a hitch in her leg and a cramp the size of Montana working it’s way up the cheek of her butt could manage.  She knew it was a natural function, but it was not something she relished sharing with a man she had just met. 

When Charlotte returned to the kitchen, Art had two glasses of wine poured, a plate of cheeses, bread, fruit and a small assortment of olives.  He was seated on a tall stool at the center island. There were two small plates, cheese knives and olive forks.  Not only was he a man of taste, but he knew how to set a table.

“Will the stool be comfortable for you, or would you rather sit at the table?”

Great, the one thing he had to notice was that she limped when she walked.  “No, a stool is just fine. But thanks for thinking of me.”  There. She hoped that let him that know that she may use a cane, but she wasn’t an invalid.  But had she come across too shrill?

He didn’t seem to think she did. He merely smiled warmly and handed her a wine glass.  “I hope you like Riesling.  I opened the Gorgonzola yesterday, and didn’t want it to dry out, and I think the Riesling pairs best.  I found some Havarti and Emmantaler too, to go with the apples and grapes.  Is this okay, or would you rather have something a little more substantial?  There’s some leftover chicken, or roast beef if you prefer.”

Suddenly, Charlotte realized he was just as nervous as she. So he wasn’t a man about town, or a playboy. He was just a genuinely nice man who was trying to please her.  “Art, this is wonderful. Far more that I had ever expected. I would have been happy with a glass of water. Really.”

He started to jump up. “If you want water…”

She stopped him. “Art, really. This is great.  But the wine is getting warm.”

He sat back down on his stool and took up his glass. He held it out towards her, offering a toast. “To newly discovered friends.”

Charlotte returned his salute. “And to knights without armor.”

She tasted the Gorgonzola, then a bite of baguette.  “This is delicious, Art. Thank you.”

“So, how did you manage to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, walking down a country lane waiting to be rescued?”

She thought for a minute. How much should she tell this man? She thought of what could happen. He could find out about her failed marriage, her spoiled son and her other problems. And he could walk away from her. Or he could decide it didn’t matter.  Then again, here she was, in the middle of what amounted to hostile territory. She could be the one to walk away.  What the hell? He asked, he’ll hear it. 

Charlotte started slowly.  She explained briefly about how her marriage had ended, how she had raised her children basically alone, how her mother had spoiled Patrick so badly he wasn’t fit to shoot. She moved up to tell about his job history, and how her son wound up changing employment every few months because of his feelings of self-entitlement.  Every so often, Art would ask a question, and the two of them would end up laughing over her answer. By the time she got to telling him about Patrick’s temper tantrum over the blown tire, they were both wiping tears from their eyes.

The food and wine disappeared without either of them really noticing.  Art had begun telling stories about his parents, how they had sold the family farm when his father had a heart attack a few years ago. Art had bought half the land, his brother Vince the other half. Their sister was already married by then and living in Argentina with her husband. He stopped in mid-sentence when he heard a vehicle in the ranch yard.  “That must be your Patrick.”

For the first time today, Charlotte was cognizant of the time. The sun was fully set. The headlights from Patrick’s Jeep shown against the kitchen wall.  The kitchen door burst open and was filled with the wrath of Patrick.

“Mother, really!  I send you for help and I find you here on a date with some strange man.  Let’s go. Now.”

Charlotte wanted to crawl inside the wine cooler and hide.  Never in her life had she been so embarrassed.  “Patrick, you really…”

“You must be Patrick.  I’m Art. Arthur Decaux. I sent Rowdy to help you get your tire fixed.”

“Yeah. Some help he was. He couldn’t even find a tow truck. He had to change the tire right on the side of the road. Then he was only able to put the donut tire on.” 

“Patrick, don’t be that way. Art was good enough to help.”

“Mother, I”m ready to go. Get in the truck. I want to make Taos before midnight.”

Art had been standing beside the counter until now. This was enough. He walked towards Patrick, using his maturity in attitude and strength to every advantage. “Young man, I’m only going to say this one time. This is my house. No one speaks disrespectfully to another person in my home. And you will not speak to your mother in that way, in my house or anywhere else.”

 “Just who do you think you are, Mr. Art Decaux? You can’t talk that way to me.”

Art was standing within six inches of Patrick now. “I am your mother’s friend. And I am a man. I expect you to behave like one in her presence and stop acting like a snotty little kid. Now, you can sit down and eat some supper with us. Or I can have Rowdy put you up in the bunkhouse for the night. Your choice.”

Patrick just stood and sputtered. He looked at his mother for help.

Charlotte watched the exchange with mixed emotions. There was no question that she loved her son. At this moment, though, she was taking great delight in seeing her son taken down a notch. She sat at the table, resting her chin on her palm, looked back and forth between the two men.

Patrick flopped down on a chair. He started to grumble, then caught himself in a rare moment of self-control when he caught his mother’s bemused stare.

“Aren’t you going to say something, Mother?” 

Patrick put a plate of thinly sliced ham on the table and took a seat. He never said a word, just smiled reassuringly.

“Thank you, Art. This is wonderful.” She smiled as she took a sip of her wine. “Patrick, this really is good. Try some.”

Her firstborn son stared from his mother to his host, open-mouthed. “Mother, what is wrong with you? This man insults me and you just sit there?”

Charlotte took one more long drink of wine and set her glass aside. She drew in a deep breath, as if trying to ready herself for the oncoming attack. “You are my son, and I love you. But you know Patrick, sometimes you act just like when you were three, and your brother took away your toy. You are a grown man. You need to learn to act like one.”

Her son stood suddenly, making Charlotte flinch. Her son had never struck her, but then again, his father had never hit her either, until he did. That was the cause of their divorce. There was always a first time. She wouldn’t back down though. “Patrick, sit. Now.” Oh, that did feel good! It was so nice to have someone on her side, just to give her a little courage.

He sat. He picked up a piece of ham and stuffed it in his mouth, chewing and swallowing while staring at the wall behind his mother’s head. He held out his plate. “May I have some cheese please? And some bread?”

Art put the requested food on his plate. “Patrick, I’d be pleased if you and your mom would stay here overnight. You don’t need to be out on the road this late at night, and you’re a good two hours away from the interstate here. I’ve got plenty of room, and you can get started after breakfast.”

Patrick didn’t bother to consult his mother before answering. “No thank you. I want to get going.”

“You go on then, Patrick. I’m staying.”

He had just taken a mouthful of cheese. Patrick began to choke on the large bite, then saved himself with a large, noisy swallow. “Mother! We need to go. I have to be at work by Tuesday.”

“Fine. You go on. I’m staying.” She smiled sweetly at her host. “Art, would you mind taking me into town tomorrow? I’ll catch the bus to the airport and fly home.”

“Sure, Charlotte.” Art smiled at her broadly. He knew what she was doing. “But there’s no need to hurry. And you won’t be catching a bus. I’ll fly you to Albuquerque myself. I’ve got a sweet little Bonanza out in a barn on the airstrip.”

“Oh sure. You have a plane. And I suppose you have your own Lamborghini too.”

“Why, no, Patrick. I don’t have a Lamborghini. That wouldn’t be practical out here. But I do have a Range Rover. And my dad has a Bentley he restored last year.” 

“It’s settled then, Patrick. You go on to your job. I’ll stay here, and Art will get me to the airport.”

Her son was really beginning to worry. “But Mother, I don’t…I mean… how will I…”

She decided to put his out of his misery. “Don’t worry. I’ll give you enough money to get there. But you’d better make sure you don’t spend it all at your first stop. And don’t take any more detours. If you run out of gas or get another flat, you’re on your own.”

Patrick stood suddenly and walked out the door. They heard the engine start, and him turning in the gravel drive.

“Art, I’m really sorry…”

He covered her hand with his. “Don’t apologize. He’s just being a jerk. He’ll get over it eventually.”

His hand felt so warm, so vibrant, on hers. It had been so long since she had a man in her life to whom she had not given birth. It was a novel sensation and she enjoyed it thoroughly. “I’m afraid he’ll do something stupid.”

“Don’t worry.” Art went to the door and called for his foreman. “Rowdy, follow that young fool, would you? His mother is afraid he’ll do something stupid. Just don’t let him know you’re back there. At least not until he does something stupid.”

She knew he was right. But it pained Charlotte to think he might think badly of her for her son’s actions. She started to apologize again. He stopped her.

“My brother was the same way. My grandmother raised him. It wasn’t until after she died, when he turned forty that he was any count whatsoever. So I know exactly what you’ve go on your hands. Your Patrick just needs someone to give him a dope slap every so often.”

This time, Charlotte put her hand over his. “It’s a shame you won’t be around to do it more often.”

Art leaned over and very gently kissed her. “Rowdy’s following Patrick. He can tail him all the way to Los Angeles if you want.”

She smiled softly. “I suppose he could. Would you mind if I waited a day or two before I left? I’d like to know that Patrick made it safely to California.”

“Darlin’, I wouldn’t mind in the least. Let’s just see what happens.”

She stood and bent down, kissing his lips softly. “Oh crap. My suitcase is in Patrick’s truck.”

“Well, we’ll just have to go to town and get you some clothes then, won’t we.”

It just seemed so simple when he said things. He wasn’t trying to take over. Wasn’t forcing his ideas on her. Just saying he could fix it, if she liked. She was beginning to realize that she was enjoying having someone take care of her. She didn’t want him to do everything, that was the last thing she wanted. Charlotte was an independent woman. But it was so good to have someone around who had her back.

Yes, Charlotte could get used to this. Very quickly. And from the look in his eyes, so could Art.

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